How to Survive Your First Industrial/Commercial Shoot (And All the Rest of Them, Too)

There was a time, back in the foolish blush of my youth, when I dismissed even the thought of booking a commercial as “selling out,” a desperate prostitution of morals better left to the Scrooge MacDucks of the vapid celebrity world. I was an artist, by Jove! I would lower myself no further than the lofty heights of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and the better-written Chick Flicks!

To that starry-eyed (yet bespectacled) drama club freshman I offer this wisdom:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Ha.

If you have booked commercial, industrial or print work of any kind, I advise you to bask in the glory that is your foreseeable life. Yes, my regional theatre orphans, that is what a real paycheck looks like! While not all commercial work will shower you with riches and fame, they are generally significantly better paid than many, many of the gigs you will take in your career, at least before you “hit it big.”

But once you book the work, how do you get through the shoot? If it’s your first time doing commercial work, it’s easy to feel intimidated and out of place. Here are a few tips to ease the transition from artist to working artist:

Be on Time: This sounds like a no-brainer, but I was recently in a shoot where I saw an actor who was called at 7:30am stroll in at 7:32. I cannot stress enough how uncool this is. Commercial shoots can involve a ton of people, all trying to run different and sometimes conflicting aspects smoothly. It is probably going to be a long day for everyone, (most of whom had to be there way earlier than you), and you do not want them to remember you as the guy they had to wait on first thing.

How to Arrive: Early, showered, calm, alert and cheerful, with clean, dry hair and no makeup (unless otherwise specified).

What to Bring: Water, any pertinent documents, appropriate forms of ID, headshots/resumes/cards (always), and something to occupy your downtime. Take that last one seriously. There will be a lot of downtime. Although it will probably be unnecessary, I always recommend an emergency protein bar and aspirin.

Clothes (Or, The Importance of Bringing Options): What you wear to the shoot is not as important (although as a rule, it is always good to look put together, professional, and close like your type). However it is possible, especially on smaller shoots, that wardrobe may ask you to bring a few items from home. More is more, in this case. If possible talk to the appropriate parties beforehand, send pictures of what you have, and then bring several additional options. You never know what is going to change, who is going to have veto power, or what outfits simply look better in your bedroom mirror than on camera. Belts, shoes, layers and accessories are your friends. The more options you bring, the less hassle you are for wardrobe, and the better chance you have of getting more featured screen time.

Be Nice to EVERYONE: Every single person you encounter on this day. Everyone, from the director to the interns to the guy raking leaves outside the studio. Make it your personal mission to be nice, friendly and engaging to all of them. First of all, because it’s the right thing to do, and hopefully you don’t need career incentive to be nice to people. But on a more Machiavellian note, you just never know. Maybe the intern is here because he is the director’s nephew. And it is sheer stupidity to be anything other than helpful and grateful to the people in charge of your hair, makeup, clothes, etc. before you appear on camera. Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but try to remember that you are being paid to smile and enjoy a product. You probably are the last to arrive and the first to leave, and you will have plenty of breaks between tasks. People might get stressed out and snippy as the shoot progresses. This is not you. You are an oasis of charming, patient, genuine cheer and serenity.

Don’t Be Shy: Obviously don’t be a jerk, but it is preferable to be assertive. If you are in a roomful of talent, be the first to volunteer for any task. Have pens, cell phones, everything you brought with you at the ready. The more you are the solution to their problems, the more they will remember you, and the better chance you have at being featured.

Wait Till They Say Cut: This is a rookie mistake but I have made it. Especially to all my theatre babies out there with limited film experience, don’t let this trip you up. Don’t start till someone says “action,” and don’t stop till someone says cut. This holds true even if people are talking over the scene, if the scene ends, if you mess up, whatever. Forget all the other jargon and just listen for the ones that apply directly to you.

Follow Directions: This is a general note. Just do what you are told. Stay where you’re put until someone tells you to move—don’t make anyone track you down. Show up exactly when, where and how you are asked to show up. During the shoot, people may often call out directions to you over the action. Roll with the punches and stay in the scene.

Be Self-Motivated: The flip side of this is that you don’t want people to have to drag you around. Be observant, learn quickly from other actors’ experiences and from your own mistakes throughout the shoot. Listen to the direction given to others and try to apply it yourself. Being a self-starter will keep you one step ahead of the game.

The Acting Part: Thought we’d never get here, right? The best advice I have is to think of everything like a microcosm of a full script. You are still a character, and you still need to have an objective and point of view. The more quickly specific you can be about those, the better off you are. Fill in whatever blanks you need to be able to play some genuine intentions.

Have Fun: This is fun. You are getting paid to have fun! Keeping a bright, upbeat attitude and some playful energy will make you fun to work with, memorable, and more genuine and natural on camera. Often in commercial and industrial shoots they are looking for that charisma and slightly heightened personality—in print shoots you basically have one expression to tell the entire world exactly how the best burger in the universe makes you feel. If you really have a good time with it, it will translate through the lens. And you will have a better memory to show for it.

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com